Monday, July 25, 2011

Killer Water

Do it right the first time around.

Don't panic. I'm not talking about manuscripts, where crappy first drafts are a given. I'm talking about building a house, where crappy materials and cutting corners to save on cost just does pay off in the end.

Let me preface this by saying that there are a gazillion excellent, trustworthy contractors and builders out there. I've actually worked with some who helped repair damages that resulted from low quality workmanship. You'll find plenty of examples of this on the HGTV show Holmes Inspection. Mike Holmes is incredible (no, he's not one I've worked with), and you can learn a lot about homes on that show. Unfortunately, I didn't get to pick the materials or contractors  used by our semi-custom home builder. And as much as I kept an eye on the process, some problems take a few years to show up.

It took them two years to resolve issues with our front door leaking into the basement every time it rained. We'd guessed what the problem was right off the bat, but checking it out would have entailed removing the door. Instead, they did everything but that, including brick removal. In the end, we were right. They would have saved way more money doing it right the first time around, rather than skirting the issue with minor, superficial repairs that added up in cost.

Why is this on my mind today? Because I'm on day two of painting, re-grouting, caulking, and grout sealing the bathrooms (and laundry room) in our house. We have a big drywall hole in our bathroom that had to be cut out to check for pipe leaks. Turns out, the peeling paint, loose tiles, and rust coming through from the metal edge plates are from cheap paint that was put on without a decent coat of primer (if any at all). The dry wall tape is even starting to show through from lack of proper mudding. Mind you, I always turn on the vents and I'm paranoid about water I take precautions...but I never got around to painting the bathrooms. Who would have thought that would be a water damage downfall?

Anyway, I can cut a straight paint edge without tape. I've done a lot of painting before :) and the results are always super satisfying. However, as neat as the results are, I'm not. I'm sore as hell. I have paint in my hair, on my arms and legs, all over my clothes. I have a busted lip because the roller holder ricocheted into my face when I was pulling a used roller off. Yeah, that hurt. But I'm not complaining. At least I didn't have a pipe burst (that happened to my sister last year...all because of a cheap valve used on a burst through the ceiling and flooded the main floor).

But it's getting done right this time. I wish it had been done right the first time around. I'd be writing this afternoon instead of painting. Water can wreak havoc on a house. The last thing a homeowner wants is a mold issue.

Have you dealt with water problems? Do you do your own house painting? Any experiences that resulted from things not getting done right the first time around?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Interview with Carina Press author Maria Zannini

I have a summer treat that's out of this world! Maria Zannini is here to share her experience in writing sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, and paranormal romance. When it comes to setting, she really knows how to create unique 'other worlds'. Maria has gone from living in a city of high rise buildings, to living next door to a lion refuge. Needless to say, she knows how to put a twist in life...and in her stories ;).

On with the interview!

1. In contemporary romance it's said that fiction has to be more realistic than reality in order for readers to buy into it. I think that paranormal/sci fi/futuristic romance has its own 'realism' challenges in that everything in the story has to be 'real', genuine, consistent, and true to the world created. How do you approach your world building, and how do you keep the details of your different worlds straight?

Hoo-boy! You’re starting out with a couple of heavyweight questions.

World building: It doesn’t matter if the world in your story is a daycare facility or a space station. Once the author understands the workings of his universe inside and out, his job is to weave that knowledge within the story (without the dreaded info dumps). Making it feel genuine is a tightrope, utilizing a lot of skills at once, but the most important tool of all is to create a sense of familiarity.

I’ll use an example from my latest book, The Devil To Pay. This was especially tricky because it’s a novella. I had to create a preternatural world and invest the reader FAST. In a little more than a thousand words, I set up the unique relationship between a demon and the man she works for, the otherworldliness of their lifestyle, and magic. The scene takes place in the man’s study and he’s dictating a letter—a mundane task until you notice the details.

It’s the little things that infer a larger world. With dictation done, the demon tosses her steno pad into the air and it returns as an envelope. The envelope is sealed in wax, then promptly mailed by tossing it up again.

Her 21st century boss might seem perfectly normal except for the 19th century garb. The demon too appears human at first glance until you read about subtly pointed ears and her extraordinary preoccupation with sex. Even the butler, who makes a half-second appearance, suggests something more than meets the eye by virtue of how he reacts (and doesn’t react) to the events and people in the scene.

To imply an extraordinary world, focus on experiences relatable to the reader, and turn them into bridges. Not only will it create a foundation, but it makes it instantly familiar and accessible to the reader.

Keeping track of details: I create a stylesheet for every book series which is nothing more than a punch list of facts and figures. This keeps me straight on dates, characters, terms, and physical details. Don’t write your next book without one! They’re lifesavers.

2. I must say that the book covers for True Believers, Touch of Fire, Apocalypse Rising and The Devil to Pay are fantastic. They really capture the characters and tone of your stories. Many authors worry about how their covers will turn out. Were you able to use your experience as an advertising artist and an art director to influence your covers? Any tips on filling out art fact sheets so that covers end up picture perfect?

Nowadays, I just give the art department two or three important aspects in the story. Having been an art director for an advertising company, I have no doubt the publisher’s art department is on a rigid schedule. While they might appreciate everything you provided, they’ll probably only use a fraction of it in the actual design.

The only cover where I had any real input was my last one for The Devil To Pay, and that’s because I designed it myself.

3. Apocalypse Rising is a continuation of Touch of Fire. For those of you who haven't read Touch of Fire yet, I don't want to give spoilers, but suffice it to say that the twist at the end had me saying OMG out loud. It was brilliant and had me wanting more. You weave a mix of mythology, mysticism, and real world into these books in a way that creates a truly unique experience. I love it. In real life, do you believe there's some truth to things like astrology, life beyond earth, psychic abilities, ghosts, mysticism etc...and does that impact your writing?

What a great question! I can’t say I believe in astrology, but I do think there’s more to life than the tangible. I’ve seen more than my share of ghosts, so any and all ghost stories I tell are based on a smidgen of experience. I delight in mysticism and the esoteric. If it’s spooky and mysterious, I want to figure out all the whys and wherefores.

While I love the supernatural, there’s enough scientist in me to want to find the logical reasons behind the metaphysical.

4. You're published in both ebook and print format (through predominantly ebook publishers). Do you have a preference between ebooks and print? If you could time travel into the future, say thirty years from now, what do you think you'd find in terms of reading and the status of print books?

I’m sure there will always be print books, but thirty years from now, I predict the print books we’ll find in most homes will be books that have a personal connection to the owner, such as art books and tomes we want to show off.

Digital will be the standard and preferred way of reading because we are already a society of short-term consumers. Gone are the days of long exposition and pages of description. The faster our lifestyle, the less time we have to read. If society continues this trend, I suspect stories will grow more bite-sized. And we won’t be content with one book in our pocket. We’ll want hundreds. We’ve been weaned on vast selections. We’ll never go back to having less choice.

The e-reader has never made it easier for the reading connoisseur. We hear about a hot novel, and BOOM, it’s in our reader at the push of a button. Paper, for all its intimate comfort and traditionalism can’t compete with that.

5. Now, let's go back in time. We'd love to hear about your first Call story. Inspire us!

Ha! This is the story of a writer who got shoved into publishing face-first. A few years back, Samhain Publishing had a First Line contest. Over 300 people submitted the first line to their novels. Each week for five weeks, you got to add another sentence, but if the judges didn’t like it, you were dropped. Whoever lasted all five weeks would be allowed to sub her novel to a specific editor.

My friend, Maya Reynolds, talked me into entering. Only I didn’t have a novel. “Five lines”, she told me. “You just gotta write five lines.” So I did. And I won. Believe me, nobody was more surprised than me. Frantic to offer something, I sent the editor three chapters (all I had), thinking she’d decline to see the rest. Instead she asked for more. So off I went into my writing cave and finished the novel in four weeks with an additional week to polish it with the help of my very understanding critique partners. I sent it in and held my breath.

I didn’t have to wait long. Within a few days, I got an email from the editor saying Samhain would like to offer me a contract for Touch Of Fire. I remember just staring at the email, certain they’d made a mistake. Of all the offers I’ve had in my life, that had been the most unexpected.

6. In your opinion, what is more important to an author's success...the publisher they're working with, the editor, or both?

I suppose the smart money would say both because a good publisher can do a lot to get an author noticed, but for me, the editor is paramount. I would rather work with an excellent editor at a small press than a mediocre editor at a big house. A great editor can make a book sparkle.

7. Apart from not quitting, what's the one thing you did that you feel played a critical role in getting you published?

Keeping a finger on the pulse of writing communities. I’ve never been particularly vocal in forums, but I am a very good listener. After a while you start to pick up little tremors when the industry is starting to shift just by reading about other people’s experiences.

8. You have an amazing blog where you get to share a lot of wonderful pictures and updates on your Texas homestead heaven (and haven). You're surrounded by some pretty interesting critters. What's the strangest pet you've ever had (or plan to have)?

I’ve never had a yen for strange pets, but I’ve raised a wide assortment of critters. To date, we’ve had emu, rheas, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, earthworms, fish, dogs and cats. We plan to get goats this year. And I’m surrounded by lots of wildlife. One of our neighbors even runs a lion sanctuary. I live in a very interesting place.

9. I love asking this because it gives us a sneak peak at the real you :). What's your quirkiest writing habit and favorite deadline crunch-time snack?

Oh, great. Now, you’re delving into the inner-Maria. I don’t think I have any quirky habits, but I do use a balance ball as a chair due to a back injury. That’s kind of quirky, right? LOL. As for snacks, I love lemon and orange jellybeans. Jellybeans not in favor tend to magically disappear. I blame the dogs—but it could be the husband. One never knows in my house.

10. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek, definitely. Captain Kirk was my babysitter.

Rula, thank you so much for interviewing me. You asked some terrific questions.

It was great having you here, Maria. Best wishes always.

Maria's latest book, The Devil To Pay, is is the first book of the series Second Chances.


The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and bad tequila. Shannon McKee finds herself at the end of her rope, and she offers her soul to whoever can save her first.

Shannon’s plea is answered immediately by two men who couldn’t be more different from one another. Yet they share a bond and an affection for the stubborn Miss McKee that even they don’t understand.

When Heaven and Hell demand their payment, Shannon has no choice but to submit. No matter who gets her soul, she’s not getting out of this alive.




Maria Zannini used to save the world from bad advertising, but now she spends her time wrangling chickens, and fighting for a piece of the bed against dogs of epic proportions. Occasionally, she writes novels.



Monday, July 11, 2011

Raising Writers

A few days ago, I shared a park bench with a lovely grandmother of twins. As we hawked over the archery camp in progress (first timer here, and the idea of a bunch of kids with a bunch of bows and arrows had me a tad worried), our conversation turned to child education and keeping their minds working over the summer months. To my surprise, the grandmother told me she was in absolute love with her iPad.

I skirted the fact that I don't own a basic ereader...let alone an iPad. I know. I know. Pathetic.

She went on to mention that she convinced her grandkids to keep journals over the summer by showing them a journal app she'd discovered (I can't recall what tech gadget the kids were working with). Man! Am I THAT old? How many of you, as kids, wrote journals with pen and paper? Mine even had a cheap, little lock on it. Talk about a false sense of security, LOL. Nothing compared to the fear of internet info leaks though.

My older son overheard the conversation and, once we were in the car, proceeded to 'inform' me of how that grandmother was WAY cool and knew WAY more than I did about iPads, even though she was WAY older than me (his words). Yep. He wants an iPad.

He tried using age and humiliation to milk it.

But I'm a mother...heh...heh. A master in the art of milking it right back. Two words.

Eductational apps.

Plus, in my world, you want it? You earn the money for it.

So where does raising writers come in to all this? Well, apps that encourage kids to keep journals is one way. I'm no expert at apps, obviously, but I did come across a few interesting sites that review writing related apps for kids. Bestappsforkids is one site. The link takes you to a few writing apps, but if you explore the site, you'll find other educational apps, including some for math. There's one in particular called Shake-a-Phrase that is geared for ages 6 and up. Again, I haven't tried any of them, but they look like good options.

I also found a writing pad on itunes. This, I believe, is an actual lined pad on which kids can physically write.

For now, my kids have traditional workbooks (they do have a few educational CDs for the computer too). If they finish a workbook by the end of the summer, I pay them. Hey, it is called a 'work' book. If adults get paid to work, what's wrong with kids earning money by working hard? If they are willing to practice math, or keep a journal, or write reports on several summer reading books, why not reward them? What unpublished writer wouldn't love to get paid for their writing?

My kids also take music lessons. These early years are the critical time when everything a child is exposed to influences how the brain's wiring develops. I'm a strong believer that learning to read and play music strengthens a child's ability to learn, not only math, but language (reading and writing) skills.

We also take regular visits to a regular library (not an online bookstore). I want my kids to remember what it's like to smell, see, and touch hundreds of books. I know libraries won't disappear, but they'll change. My kids can't believe we had index card catalogues when I was a kid. The grandmother on the bench told me she had no doubt that pretty soon every child in a classroom would have an iPad (or similar gadget), and all textbooks, homework etc...would be done on it. That would certainly make for lighter backpacks!

This is such a complex topic and I've struggled not to go off on tangents, but the bottom line is that writing is a critical skill regardless of what profession you enter. With the technology and gaming boom coming at our kids from all directions, how do we make sure our kids don't go brain dead over the summer months? How do we ensure that the language centers in their brains get properly developed? There's no doubt that the wiring that occurs as a result of hands to paper writing vs keyboard writing differs. What do you think about all this. Do you involve your kids in summer activities that encourage their reading and writing skills?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

RWA Nationals 2011 Pictures

I'm back from RWA in New York with promised pics! It was my first time visiting NY, and I'm grateful that my dear friend, and personal tour guide, Kaily Hart took me everywhere from Times Square to the Empire State Building and in between. I never thought I'd describe NY as beautiful, but it truly is. I really loved the juxtapostion of old and new architecture. Yes. Gargoyles and glass are quite a pairing.

Fabulous workshops were offered, and the vast majority can be ordered through If you need to join RWA, go to I can't even begin to go into which workshops wowed me and which made everyone laugh like nuts (while learning of course ;)). I'm way too exhausted and still trying to digest the entire experience.

And now for the pictures (ignore bad caption grammar...I went with order of appearance):

Readers for Life Literacy Autographing

Me and Jeannie Watt

Amy Knupp and me

Ellen Hartman and Helen Brenna

Come on. I couldn't let them pose without me!

On to other things...

RWA President Dorien Kelly at opening session

Opening session panelists Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon, and Tess Gerritsen

Me and Kaily Hart

Kaily Hart and Robin Covington

Daytime view from my window. Did I mention the noise (all night)?

...and that the view changes?

What's more american?

Also outside my window...and I had to look twice to be sure he wasn't real.

A hero on his steed
More author pics coming up, but first for all you avid shoppers and architecture enthusiasts...

Looking down on Macy's...the red sign in the middle

Trump Tower

The Plaza Hotel

Looking down from the Empire State Building

Emcee Meg Cabot doing a spot-on impression of Tina Fey
And after the awards...

Me and Kaily Hart

After an emotional acceptance speech, Helen Brenna stands with her proud, 17 year old son and Rita herself. Helen's son attended his first RWA Nationals at the age of 2 months.

Jeannie Watt and her lovely daughter Jamie

Kay Stockham...I wish I got a photo of her standing because she looked absolutely stunning in that dress.

Kaily Hart and Amy Knupp. More gorgeous women and fashion. Next year, I'm not letting anyone sit down!

Ellen Hartman and Jeannie Watt...who can't stop laughing. Ellen has that effect.

Kay Stockham and me

That's all I have folks. I met so many people that I wish I got pictures of, but there was simply too much going on. I'm afraid if I start naming names, I might leave someone out. The meeting is still a bit of a blur and my body and brain have yet to recover. You all know who you are and it was a thrill to see you.

(I apologize for the crazy spacing. Blogger wasn't cooperating. I gave up on trying to fix or add captions. In fact, I'm posting a day early just in case...)

Happy Fourth of July!